The Power of the Pen (Pal)

Writer_ImageI can’t express how important it is to feel connected to people on the outside while you are serving prison time. From the time I entered custody I began writing letters to my wife, family and friends. With only 300 minutes per month of phone time in Federal prison, it is important to utilize mail and email (where possible) to stay in touch with people who can encourage you and hold you accountable while you spend the time behind razor wire.

This article from Phys.org discusses a study that demonstrates the power of the pen pal for those is prison. According to the study, “Prisoners said the scheme made them feel less isolated, helped change their self-identity, provided a distraction, boosted their happiness and raised their hopes for life beyond prison.” As someone who did five years in prison, I can’t agree more!!

Some guys I saw were full of shame and depressed. They chose to isolate and not stay connected to friends and family. There were also guys who had no one on the outside with whom to communicate. These were the guys who seemed to have the most trouble using their time for something productive. They felt alone and unmotivated to improve themselves.

If you are facing prison, take the time to get contact information for people who are supportive and encouraging. And once you get inside, take the time to write them regularly, even if you don’t hear back from them it will help you to put into words your experience. Many churches and ministries provide pen pal services to which you can subscribe. Here are a few I found:

http://www.cppministry.com/

http://prisonministry.net/directory/categories/penpal/

http://www.jailandprisonministries.org/programs/penpalministry.html

God bless!!

Speaking of Prison (Preparation)

paulprojectspeech

Speaking about the Paul Project at the Christian Legal Society monthly meeting.

We had a great opportunity to speak with a number of lawyers last Friday when the Paul Project spoke to the Raleigh Christian Legal Society. While it was a relatively small crowd, there was some great interest in our story and our ministry to provide encouragement, information and support to individuals and their families facing prison time. We had questions about safety in prison, how our marriage survived, what we can do to help others prepare for their prison sentence and how we came up with the idea for the ministry. We shared how God used the time to transform my life and our marriage.

Thanks to Rik Lovett and the Raleigh Christian Legal Society for the opportunity. We would love to speak with other organizations about the Paul Project prison preparation ministry. You can reach us at david@paulproject.org or at 919-602-9612.

Special Circumstance – Sex offenders in prison

There are a few groups who are more at risk than others in prison. Snitches and sex offenders rank at the bottom of the barrel. As my crime was a sex offense I can relate to the fear felt by those who hear the stories of the danger and abuse heaped on sexual offenders. While I didn’t experience any physical abuse, I was on the receiving end of verbal abuse. I chose to be honest about my crime and put my fate in God’s hands. For five years he protected me and kept me safe.

So if you are convicted of a sexual offense how can you prepare for prison? Most of the preparation is the same as anyone facing prison. But there are a few things you can do to help you and your family prepare.

1. Get help – If you are guilty, it is critical you reach out and get help. Work with a therapist and/or pastoral counselor to help you understand how you got to where you were and how to overcome the problem. My wife and I spent hundreds of hours in counseling over the 8 months prior to my incarceration. It was very expensive, but worth every penny. It will help you repair your relationships, overcome your addictions and create a plan for the future. It will also help you when you stand in front of the judge.

2. Decide early how you want to handle it when you are asked about your crime. And you will be asked. I chose early on to be honest. I started out trying to lie, but I couldn’t do it. Plus, with Google, anyone can find out the truth with a quick call to their family. For me, I believe my remorse was obvious and that by being honest I was setting a level of respect. But you have to do what you feel comfortable with. There are people who are harmed because of their crime, I won’t lie about that.

3. Create a circle of a few friends whom you trust. It isn’t easy to know who to trust in prison. But once you get a sense of people, you can start to create a circle of people who protect each other’s back. Plus, you are less of a target if you are not a loner. For me, I chose to be part of a Christian group and the church. This offered me both spiritual support and a sense of security.

So, are there risks to being a sex offender in prison? Yes. Can you survive? Yes. If you would like to discuss this in more detail you can contact us and we will gladly help you.

 

 

 

Stats show prison education cuts recidivism

safb_classroomI ran across this article discussing issues around college education for inmates. There are some great stats that show it is a wise investment for states and non-profits, if their goal is to keep inmates from returning. I know from my experience, choosing to participate in these programs provided a way to not only use my time productively, but to also help me prepare for life after prison. I encourage anyone entering prison to be intentional about selecting the activities in which they participate and to do something to help them prepare for their release, because it will happen. Here are some of the more remarkable stats from the story:

The study found inmates who participated in correctional education, including remedial, vocational and post-secondary education, were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years, a 13 percentage point reduction in the risk of re-offending. 

That means for every dollar spent on correctional education, a state corrections department would save five dollars it would have spent on re-incarceration costs, according to the report.

Prison can make you sick

images (1)The only thing worse than being in prison, is being sick in prison. Thankfully, I only experienced a few colds and allergies during my five years. But I knew of many folks who caught the flu and other major ailments during their stay. This article about a flu outbreak at a Federal prison in Lorretto, Pa. reminded me of that. Illness in prison spreads like wildfire. It can get so bad that the prison goes on lock down, prohibits visits and takes other extreme measures.

My advice for those preparing for prison is to get as healthy as possible before going in. Lose weight if you need to, exercise, start eating right and build up your body to help you fight off the numerous bacteria, viruses and other creatures floating around your cell. Also, when you get there, stock up on a few of the over-the-counter medicines available through the commissary. You should be able to get allergy medicine, cough medicine, antacids, anti-diarrheal and other medications to help you get through your sickness. Going to medical is an option, but it most cases they will just tell you get medicine from the commissary.

 

Prison Journal Entry – August 8, 2011

crampedapartmentThis is an entry from my journal during my time at FCI Elkton:

Quiet day. Our new cellie, Gene, moved into our cube. Amazing how one additional body makes an 8′ x 10′ cube feel like a shoe box. I offered to have him sit on my bed when he needs to. I know I hated when I was on the top bunk and never had a place to sit down. 

Lisa sounded good. Just a quick chat today. I love and miss her so much. Sad I may not see her again next year. But I am grateful for our time together. 

Personal space is at a minimum in prison. You have your bunk and a locker and that’s really it. There are very few places you can go for any kind of privacy. The bathroom stall is about as close as you get to being alone and then it doesn’t have a lock on it (if you happen to have one with a door). At FCC Petersburg we actually had our own chairs, which made it easier to find a place to sit. One thing I had to get use to was there is nothing soft in prison. We’re talking concrete, steel and plastic. Even the mattresses are plastic. I will never again take for granted upholstered furniture!!

8 works of literature written in prison

progressInteresting article about 8 works of literature written by men in prison. I certainly don’t agree with numbers 5 and 7, as they go against my values and faith. And I love that they included number 4, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, one of my favorite books  The 8 authors are Martin Luther King Jr., Marco Polo, Nelson Mandela, John Bunyan, Adolf Hitler, Sir Thomas Malory, Marquis de Sade, Boethius. Another author who did much writing in prison, and who I highly recommend, is Deitrich Bonhoeffer. He is an incredible theologian, pastor and Christian.

I thought I might work on a book while I was doing my time. But I decided to wait until I got out in order to have a much fuller perspective of the experience and not be colored by the environment. I did keep a journal and used the time to gain insight into who I was and who God wanted me to be. I highly suggest using your sentence to do the same. You will come out of it with a much clearer understanding of yourself and those around you.

Article – How my life as an entrepreneur shaped my time in prison

entrepreneur magazine

I ran across this Entrepreneur magazine article from a guy who spent a couple of years in prison and used the skills he had learned in starting up a business to help him maximize his time in prison. From my experience, he makes some good points. I especially agree with his point around time management. Effective use of time is a critical part of redeeming your time in prison. Here is the link to the article: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/242463

Questions for the Paul Project

prisoners_watching_tvThe idea of starting the Paul Project was first sparked by our experiencing the fear of the unknown as we faced our own prison sentence. What fueled it was corresponding with a man facing a 10-year sentence. In a number of letters he sent me probably two dozen questions about what to expect in prison. As I responded to his questions he expressed his gratitude and let me know how helpful and comforting it was to have a clearer picture of what he might face. As I mentioned before, I’ll be answering his questions from time to time.

One question he had was around prison rules, both written and unwritten. I may post a few pages of one of the rules documents once I get it digitized. It would be an understatement to say that there are many written rules for each facility. And while the basic rules are the same, each compound does operate differently. There is very little orientation conducted so most of the time you’re going to be learning as you go. I asked a lot of questions and found guys who were willing to guide me through my first months. There are rules about counts, movement, contraband, drugs, alcohol, sexual activity, ID cards, mail, education, visiting, laundry, and much more.

Some unwritten rules relate to dealing with other inmates. For example, in a TV room seats are usually selected based on seniority. If someone has “claimed” a seat and you’re in it, unless you are willing to fight for it, you better move on. And unless you have a majority of guys behind you (or some juice) don’t even think about turning the channel. I’ve seen more fights over TV in prison than I have over anything else.

While there is a lot to learn when you get to prison, it is important to understand the written and unwritten rules as soon as possible. It will save you a lot of stress, and help you avoid potential physical threats and time in the hole.

The Super Bowl in Prison

Super_Bowl_logo.svgThe Superbowl attracted more that 111 million viewers in 2014. A few million of those 111 million people watching the big game were incarcerated in jail or prisons around the country. I watched 5 Super Bowls while serving my sentence and it was a welcome respite from the daily routine, but also a reminder of the separation from my family and friends.

Both at FCI Elkton and FCC Petersburg I was able to watch the Super Bowl without much incident. There is a lot of gambling that goes on around the game, but I avoided that kind of behavior along with the resulting conflicts and potential violence that go along with it. It is amazing how invested the guys would be in their selected team.

Super Bowl day usually brought a special meal of pizza and wings that we could take back to the unit to eat while we watch the game. We would also often make something special like a nacho bowl with which to celebrate.

I’m grateful we were able to watch the Super Bowl despite our imprisonment. It is the small things that provide some sense of connection with the outside world. It is definitely something to look forward to.